Now that Joe Rightmyer has made public his intent not to appeal the ruling of Grace Presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission which stripped him of his ordination, efforts are underway to make sure what happened to Rightmyer does not happen to others. The cry is rising from all quarters and people are asking:
- What can we do if Joe is not going to appeal?
- How can the General Assembly be asked to rebuke the action of Grace Presbytery?
- How can this injustice be corrected?
- How can the approach of the presbytery be called out of order?
- How can we prevent this from happening again, in Grace Presbytery or anywhere else?
The Book of Order is clear that no one has “standing” to appeal. So alternate routes must be pursued.
What can be done
I suppose it is possible to seek an opinion or even a musing from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly about the kind of authority the presbytery PJC ruling has beyond the person of Joe Rightmyer and beyond the boundaries of Grace Presbytery.
According to Rightmyer, the stated clerk opined that the case was personal, all about Joe and not nationally relevant. That suggests that the ruling is also limited in its scope and applicability. If the trial was all about Joe, then the outcome of the trial is also all about Joe, sets no precedent and cannot be used to stifle the actions of other pastors in Grace Presbytery nor beyond.
It would be good to hear that officially as “remember what happened to Rightmyer” is already the thinly veiled threat pastors are hearing when their churches raise the subject of discernment with the presbytery.
Another option is to ask the synod and the General Assembly for “an Administrative Review of the books.” In G-3.0108 the Book of Order says,
“Higher councils shall review the work of lower councils in the following ways: a. General Administrative Review: Each council shall review … the proceedings and actions of all entities related to the body, all officers able to act on behalf of the body, and lower councils within its jurisdiction. In reviewing the procedures of the lower council, the higher body shall determine whether the proceedings have been correctly recorded, have been in accordance with this Constitution, have been prudent and equitable, and have been faithful to the mission of the whole church. It shall also determine whether lawful injunctions of a higher body have been obeyed. B. Special Administrative Review: If a higher council learns at any time of an alleged irregularity or delinquency of a lower council, it may require the lower body to produce any records and to take appropriate action. C. Directed Response: The higher council may direct the lower council to reconsider and take corrective action if matters are determined to be out of compliance. In addition to administrative review, review and correction may be sought by initiating judicial process as described in the Rules of Discipline.”
The other option is for a session to pass a resolution, distribute it widely and go on record as standing against the spirit and process that resulted in the Rightmyer defrocking.
Sample Session resolution
WHEREAS, as Presbyterians we believe that “the power that Jesus Christ has vested in His Church, a power manifested in the exercise of church discipline, is one for building up the body of Christ, not for destroying it, for redeeming, not for punishing. It should be exercised as a dispensation of mercy and not of wrath so that the great ends of the Church may be achieved, that all children of God may be presented faultless in the day of Christ.” ( , D-1.0102); and
WHEREAS on January 7, 2015, the action of the Permanent Judicial Commission of Grace Presbytery,to censure the Rev. Joseph B. Rightmyer by removing him from the ordered ministry was punitive and not restorative; and
WHEREAS the Rev. Joseph B. Rightmyer is a highly respected leader at the national level for his work of renewal and reform in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and who most recently served as interim senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas; having served in these and many other positions with distinction; and
WHEREAS during the period of his service at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, the congregation decided by a vote of 1,337 to 170 to transfer to another Reformed denomination; and
WHEREAS Grace Presbytery was paid $7.8-million by the congregation to retain their property upon departure; and
WHEREAS a review of the charges, specifications, and findings seemed to this Session to be greatly insufficient to warrant the highest level of censure available; and
WHEREAS this Session concludes that the punishment meted out to the Rev. Joseph B. Rightmyer was punishment wholly out of proportion to the charges reported; and
WHEREAS this action, if not reversed, sends a chilling message throughout the Presbyterian Church (USA) that vindictive actions will be taken against ordained officers of the church who disagree with the policies or practices of the presbytery.
Now, therefore, be it resolved on this [date] day of [month], 2015 by the Session of [name of church] Church of [city], [state] in the presbytery of [name of presbytery]:
1. The session declares that the action of Grace Presbytery to remove Joe Rightmyer from the ordered ministry is wholly out of accord with the standards of discipline and is totally lacking in consistency across the denomination and sends an unwanted, improper message that reasonable dissent and differences are not tolerated within this Denomination and the session calls for a Special Administrative Review by the Synod of the Sun.
2. The session asks the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly to issue either a musing or an opinion on the specific question of the authority and scope of the Rightmyer decision beyond the boundaries of Grace presbytery and that that Stated Clerk would remind the denomination of the purpose and nature of church discipline.
3. The Clerk of Session is hereby directed to send a copy of this resolution to every minister member of [name of presbytery], the Moderator and Stated Clerk of [name of presbytery], every session of every congregation within the bounds of [name of presbytery], the Stated Clerk and Co-Leaders of the Synod of the Sun, the Stated Clerk and Moderator of the General Assembly, and to Mr. Joe Rightmyer, 370 Blue Ridge Drive North, Marion, NC. 28752.
If your session approves such a resolution or your presbytery develops an overture to the General Assembly or you come up with some other approach to raise a witness against Grace Presbytery’s defrocking of Joe Rightmyer, please share. The Layman Online (www.layman.org) stands ready to bear witness with you against this gross exercise of wrath against our colleague and friend in ministry.
PDF version of sample resolution in support of Joe Rightmyer
Joe Rightmyer’s open letter to his friends and former colleagues in the PCUSA
Rightmyer’s last sermon as a teaching elder in the PCUSA
PCUSA defrocks nationally recognized renewal leader
Defrocked by the PCUSA: An interview with Joe Rightmyer
Outrage over Joe Rightmyer, and the ultimate so what?
I hope that Joe is not one of these guys whose gospel is “Niceness” and it wouldn’t be nice to disagree with the presbytery. We have been too much trying to be innocent like lambs while ignoring how Jesus said we are also to be “wise as serpents”. While Joe is being NICE by not appealing an evil attack he is injuring his own friends in ministry by opening them up to similar attacks. MAYBE THE LAYMAN SHOULD EXPOSE MORE THE CLERGY KILLERS IN OUR TIME and expose that NICENESS isn’t always good. Let’s look back at the Presbyterian of 1776 and their attitude toward King George.
There is something people don’t seem to get. Pastors are members of, and employed by Presbyteries. They cannot participate or appear to lead a congregation out of the denomination. To do so is an act of willful insubordination. In any other profession that is cause for dismissal, and it is cause for dismissal from churches as well. It is simple and straight forward. Why should anybody be shocked or surprised?
That being said, the pastors in our denomination treat each other badly by any standard. They behave like lone wolves in the winter. And this behavior is not limited to conservative vs liberal polemics. It extends all the way down to lack of common curtsy. There is a total lack of conversational capacity. What we see instead are preachers preaching to each other, and listening to each other’s sermons with the same attention of the average pew sitter: In one ear and out the other.
What is needed is a wholesale cultural change to a mutually affirming and supporting culture that balances open curiosity with diplomatic candor. Anybody who thinks God is on their side is not listening. He’s mad at everybody.
Are pastors just employees of the Presbytery or are pastors called by God to serve Him first? If religious leaders are subject and employees of higher bodies why didn’t Jesus go along with the Pharisees and Sadducees who thought they were in charge and everyone must follow their decrees? After all the Pharisees demanded Jesus to conform. Do pastors please God by serving the Pharisees of our day?
The only thing that was revoked was his employment with the PCUSA.
Jodie, your assertion that pastors are employed by their presbyteries is incorrect (except in the few circumstances where they serve as presbytery executives/stated clerks). Pastors are indeed members of their presbyteries, but they are employed by their calling congregations. Their primary responsibility under Christ, the Chief Shepherd of the flock, is to shepherd their charge according to His will. The presbytery should assist in this process, but it has no spiritual authority to dictate over the will of Christ. Should a local body of believers and its pastor(s) determine through prayer and study that the Spirit of God is leading them to seek alignment with another part of Christ’s fold, the attempt of a presbytery to stop this at all costs would be an act of willful insubordination (and not just to a human institution but to God Himself).
By the way, what was revoked in the case of Joe Rightmyer was not “his employment with the PCUSA” (he was already retired), but his ordination credentials, even though he was honorably retired. Not much grace expressed in that gesture.
Also, by the way, in my three decades of pastoring, I hope I have always been courteous to ministers and elders alike, whether I agreed or disagreed with them. I’d have to say, however, that I never “curtsied” to any of them….
Excellent summary, thank you Mateen.
Joe was Interim Pastor at Highland Park. Note: Interim. One of the first tasks of an interim pastor is to guide the congregation through the process of dealing with its past and clarifying its identity for the future. An Interim pastor does not tell the congregation who they are, or who they ought to be, but walks them through the process of finding out who they are and who they want to be. Highland Park has been unhappy with their denominational affiliation for a long time – long before Joe Rightmyer arrived – and he was contracted to come in and walk them through the process of discernment. It never was his job to stop them from leaving, just to make sure they follow through the procedure and make the best informed decision possible. I know because I am a professional Interim Pastor who has been walking a congregation through the same discernment process.
Some in my Presbytery assume it is my job to dissuade my church from leaving. No – they need to make their own decision, and they will have to live with the consequences, good or bad. It is my job to make sure they are well informed, that the information is reasonably fair and balanced, that everyone gets their say and no one is railroaded into a decision they do not want. I am a TEACHING elder, not a RULINBG elder, and especially not a
Joe did his job honestly and fairly…and I suspect, he did it well. The actions of his Presbytery are not really aimed at him in my opinion; rather, the PJC is angry at the church – who is beyond their reach now – and are directing their anger at Joe as a convenient scapegoat. This is not just wrong-headed, but is at heart evil.
I have already been hauled before my Committee on Ministry once because I was interim pastor in a congregation with a history of rancor toward the PCUSA and did not “fix” them. It was my reputation for fairness and respect for my churches that led my present church to contract with me as their Interim. As with Joe at Highland Park, they already had meetings scheduled with Presbytery representatives about their grievances before I arrived. As my current charge leaves the PCUSA, I have no illusions: I expect to be black-balled, and so have no other recourse than to leave the denomination as well. May God have mercy on us all.
You are mistaken, as ably explained by Mateen in the thread below.
Ah the joys of automatic spell checkers. Who has not been bit by this lovely technology. However the words curtsy and courtesy are basically the same word, both coming from the French word “courteis”, the showing of courtly manners: the gentle politeness expected of one who is standing in the presence of the king. It appears nobody believes their squabbles are actually being carried out in the presence of a king, let alone THE King. But if they do, then surely they lack a minimum of courtly manners to His Highness, as you and others here have aptly complained and occasionally demonstrated.
On the topic of employment, I think a reasonable case can be made that the one who has the hire and fire authority over a person is the one who “employs” that person. Presbyteries, not congregations, have and routinely exercise that authority, as demonstrated by this case.
(I think some people must think that “ordination” is some kind of sacrament. But that is not the reformed view. All it means in practice is that a religious body has found you eligible to serve in some capacity within its body. Who and what the Holy Spirit anoints people to do is something entirely different. There are many an “ordained” pastor whom the Holy Spirit has clearly not called or anointed to anything, and I expect vice-versa is also true)
You do raise one interesting point. It appears that pastors that come out of honorable retirement and go back to work as pastors of churches in the PCUSA can indeed loose their eligibility to serve congregations of the PCUSA. But it does not seem that he wants to do that anymore anyway. Other than that, what else really happened? Nothing. Possibly the meaninglessness of such grand gestures is the greatest insult of all.
Hi, Jodie, Last evening, some brethren from Turkey shared some amazing stories of folks reconciling over there, with Christ, with each other. The need here is revival! Younger saints, especially, are sick of these P.C.U.S.A. “pastors” fighting one another, often, showing no evidence of salvation. Beyond grievous: and the bureaucrats continue to say “all is well.” In Christ, Dale (Desirous of keeping his Spirit’s unity)
I can say “Amen” to a revival. I think partisan politics in our Church has all but completely shut down every revival that has come around of late. The only pastor I ever met who had the Spirit of Revival in his message got rejected, oddly enough, by the Evangelicals in the denomination. They thought he was doing it for self promotion, because when he’d get done preaching, people wanted to cheer and clap their hands. Revivals are apparently too out of control.